Advocates for jailed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cited his susceptibility to the global coronavirus pandemic in a plea sent Wednesday to officials in his native Australia.
Doctors for Assange, a group of nearly 200 medical professionals concerned for the Aussie’s health, urged the Australian government to intervene in light of prisoners like the WikiLeaks publisher being at increased risk of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus while incarcerated with other inmates.
“Julian Assange’s life and health are at heightened risk due to his arbitrary detention during this global pandemic. That threat will only grow as the coronavirus spread,” the group wrote.
Mr. Assange, 48, has been jailed since last April at Belmarsh Prison in London, where he is being held pending the outcome of an extradition trial that will determine whether he should be sent to the U.S. to face criminal charges related to releasing classified U.S. documents through his WikiLeaks website.
Addressed to Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and sent to her colleagues in Canberra, the letter is the latest in a series sent by Doctors for Assange seeking his release from custody and an end to the extradition proceedings.
“We further extend our previous appeals to demand that the Australian government heed not only doctors’ warnings, but those of respected legal and human rights bodies and authorities, many of which are calling for the U.S. extradition request to be denied and Julian Assange’s incarceration and extradition trial to be ceased, in the name not only of medical ethics, but human rights and rule of law,” they wrote in the letter.
Ms. Payne did not immediately return a request for comment.
Discovered in December in Wuhan, China, the novel coronavirus has since spread to more than 100 countries and has been designated a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
Internationally, the WHO has documented more than 191,000 cases of COVID-19, the highly contagious and potentially deadly respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
Health experts have urged people to avoid crowds in order to mitigate the outbreak, while inmates held at packed correctional facilities are effectively unable to heed that advice.
General Secretary Steve Gillan, the head of the U.K. Prison Officers’ Association, previously told British media that the pandemic poses an “unprecedented” situation for both prisoners and jailers.
“This is one of the most critical issues going and I’m pleased to say we’re working constructively with government and with employers,” said Mr. Gillan, the U.K.’s Metro newspaper reported Monday.
More recently, Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service announced Wednesday that the first known case of an inmate in the U.K. contracting COVID-19 has been reported at HM Prison Manchester.